HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. — Rick Clunn isn't just old-school — the guy's practically Oxford. For him, a Saturday jostling against the heavy boat traffic expected to flood onto Old Hickory Lake isn't his ideal day of fishing.
"I still look for the quietness and solitude and birds chirping — not policing 30 boats," said Clunn, currently second (29 pounds, 7 ounces) among the 50 Bassmaster Elite Series anglers remaining in the Tennessee Triumph presented by Longhorn. "I don't have the right to (direct traffic), but I have to, in the framework of what I do."
More than the nuisance of trying to fish in the wake of yachts or going elbow-to-elbow with a weekend tournament angler in a johnboat, Clunn and other anglers have to worry about how their fish — especially those on banks and flats — will respond to the changing conditions.
Some anglers would tell you adjusting is all they ever do.
"I like it tough," said Terry Scroggins (t-30th, 20-4). "It brings out the best in you, if you're good. Or it brings out the bad, if you're bad."
But on a relatively small, skinny lake next to a metropolitan area with 1.5 million residents, both anglers and fish stand to take a pounding. Still, anglers interviewed before take-off at Sanders Ferry Park on the morning of Day Three said more boats on the water may actually enhance the shallow fishing that many anglers have so far relied upon.
"Boat traffic may stir the water, help make it muddier," said Alton Jones (25th place, 20-12). "It might make the fish more approachable."
While some anglers — including Days One and Two leader Kevin Wirth (32-12) — have been targeting small structure and objects in shallow water, others, Jones said, will be able to find unpressured water in creek channels. On the banks, though, he added, "there's a lot of guys round-robining through some spots."
His strategy on Day Three will be to hit his productive spots early, then make a run upriver to find less crowded water. "Everyone's going to have an armada around them," he said.
And that's not just the usual spectator boats, nor the weekend tournament anglers (who, Clunn points out, have every right to be on the water and may not be able to fish any other day) but also jet skis, pontoons, speedboats pulling innertubes, etc.
"It's just another day to them," Dean Rojas (16th, 22-11) said of the fish. "They're used to all the boat traffic. There will be waves crashing on the bank, and you'll still catch them."
Clunn estimated that while a usual ratio of deep to shallow fish in a hot lake in June would be about 80-20, Old Hickory right now has about a 50-50 split. Whether that's due to penetration of light, vegetation, or some other factor, he couldn't say. The result, though, is that shallow fish are replenishing better than they might in similar lakes this time of year.
One factor not keeping the deep fish bunched up is the lack of current: So long as the Army Corps of Engineers isn't pulling water from the lake to generate power, deep shad aren't forced to group up, and a backflow may actually disperse them. Scattered shad means scattered bass.
"The deep bite went away, because they're not pulling any water," said Timmy Horton (41st, 19-0). "It's turned into a shallow-water tournament."
A place Horton found earlier in the week, when there was some current, produced a 5-pounder and a 4-pounder in practice. During the tournament, when all has been still, however, he hasn't gotten a bite there.
Among the anglers still plugging away at the deep bite is Chris Lane (29th, 20-6). Here's how he says he can vault up the leaderboard: "Everyone in Nashville runs their AC. They need power, so, boom, they pull water. Then the bite turns on. Then it's on fire."